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Dartmoor Zoological Park

Address Dartmoor Zoological Park
How to Find it: Directions: From the A38, Turn off at Plympton, (Deep Lane Junction), follow the signs for either Sparkwell or the brown tourism signs for “Wildlife Park”.
Open: We are open all year around from 10am Summer Opening Hours are 10am to 6pm Winter Opening Hours are 10am to 4pm.
Prices: Daily Admissions Adult £8.95 OAP £7.95 Child (aged 4-15) £6.95 Child (3 and under) Free Family (4 tickets, no more than 2 adults) £29 Weekly Passes – Admission for the whole week. Adult £11.50 OAP £10.50 Child (aged 4-15) £9.50 Child (under 3 and under ) Free Family (4 tickets, no more than 2 adults) £38 Annual Membership – Admission for the whole year. Adult £33 OAP £30 Child (aged 4-15) £25 Child (3 and under) Free Family (4 tickets, no more than 2 adults) £105 Group Admissions (15+ people) Adult £7.95 OAP £6.95 Child (aged 4-15) £5.95 Child (3 and under) Free School Visits £4.50
No of Species No of Animals Star Rating
Mammals Conservation
Birds Enclosures
Reptiles Education
Amphibians Recreation
Fish Research
Total 0 0
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This critique last updated:  Sep 2008

Official Description


There are over 200 animals at Dartmoor Zoological Park: from tiny stick insects to Ben our Brown Bear or Solomon our Lion all set in over 30 acres of beautiful parkland. Discover something different, learn something amazing and help us make tomorrow's world rich in animal life.

You may of seen us on the BBC2 documentary series “Ben's Zoo” come and join us and try and spot some of the animals featured in the programme.

We are open daily from 10am all year round. It is a wonderful place to bring children. Come and see the animals and enjoy new our new restaurant with-far reaching views, and delicious healthy food

Visitor Reviews

Review by James Straight 15th August 2008

Having first visited this zoo back in 2001 when it was called the Dartmoor Wildlife Park owned at that time by Ellis Dawe and having watched the series, Ben’s Zoo, we decided to find out for ourselves what had changed. One thing that had n`t was the signage from the main Plymouth road which left you guessing and several u-turns later we pulled into the pot-holed car park. At the kiosk we asked for a guidebook to be included in our entrance fee and were amazed to find that the only thing available was an A4 sheet which served as a map of the park that my 12 year old daughter could have produced! With a place that is obviously struggling for income, I could not believe that such an opportunity had been lost for advertising revenue. We were now faced with the long climb up the hill to the main body of the zoo which in places was dangerous to navigate with having to step onto the road and back on to the uneven path whilst avoiding cars. On the right there is a field occupied by a number of sika deer, capybara and emus. The pond fed by a natural spring is still there, although Elizabeth, the grey seal, has obviously died – what a bizarre sight that was!! At the top of the hill construction work did appear to be underway on a new tapir house, so there are some signs of changes afoot. We noticed the sign indicating times for talks and feeding and made our way to Bruin`s Wood which I recall was one of the best features of the park. The enclosure resembles a pit although the back extends into a large wooded area in which the bears can roam. Previously you could buy peanuts and the bears would sit and beg although this has now ceased and the animals look remarkably well, losing weight and having glossy coats. One slightly disappointing note was the amateurish nature of the talk given by one of the keepers who read from notes and struggled to be heard above the crowd. Moving round the zoo is quite exciting because you don`t really know what you will encounter next, however, many of the enclosures were empty or the occupants not visible, something my daughter found frustrating. One thing with a zoo in a wooded environment is the inevitable dank feeling and dead leaves strewn everywhere. The larger animals are mainly at the top of the zoo and two enclosures in particular are very well suited for viewing by the public and other zoos could well take a lesson from this. One of the occupants, however, an Amur tiger did appear to be showing stereo-typical behaviour – head swaying and pacing. Dartmoor Zoological Park is obviously a zoo in transition with little capital and there is a long way to go. I think with better planning and thought given to areas like the canteen (few staff and uncleared tables) better animal information and more attention paid to the existing enclosures more visitors will come back. At the moment the place still has a slightly unkempt air about it. I do, however, wish them well for the future.

This review reprinted from ZOO! Magazine with kind permission.
For information on how to subscribe to ZOO! click here.

It was during a family holiday in the late 1970’s that I first visited Dartmoor Wildlife Park and it was during this visit that I was first confronted with the idea that there was such a thing as a ‘bad’ zoo. I remember feeling slightly awkward at the idea for, as far as I was concerned, zoos were all good places. It was, however, my father who expressed the view and my father had always seemed keen to encourage my zoo visits. When I asked what it was that he disapproved of, I was told that the place was dirty and run-down.

That visit took place over twenty years ago, so when I went down to Devon last Easter, to visit the in-laws, I decided it was time to revisit Dartmoor and see how it had developed.

The Zoo its self, is situated near the village of Sparkwell on the southwestern edge of Dartmoor. It is set on a thirty-acre hillside and had been a working farm for many years when, in 1968, it became evident that the small farm was struggling to survive the increase in intensive farming. It was decided that the way forward was through the keeping and exhibiting of live wild animals.

At first the park kept only British species but I should think it wasn’t long before the definition of ‘British’ was being stretched to such a degree that the policy was abandoned altogether. Today, whether it is intentional or not, carnivores seem to make up the majority of species kept at Dartmoor.

Having arrived at the zoo and deposited your car in the pot-holed car park (or disembarked from the 58 bus after a scenic ride from Plymouth.), you find a steep path leading up to the hub of the zoo. On either side of the path are large open paddocks, the rest of the zoo being fairly wooded. On your right as you ascend the hill, is a large spring fed pool in which resides a lone Grey Seal called Elizabeth. Elizabeth is about thirty years old and until recently she shared her pool with a (now deceased) companion. It is rather an odd sight seeing a seal in what is a very natural looking pond in the middle of a field, especially when that field contains Brazilian Tapir, Emu, Common Rhea and Mara.
Just up from the seal paddock is a large walk-through enclosure which has a rather scruffy look to it. In a far corner is a small muddy lake on which can be seen Greater Flamingos and there are a couple of small enclosures: one housing wallabies, the other Crested Porcupine. The main inhabitants if this enclosure though, are Mute Swans, Barnacle Geese and peacocks with a scattering of domestic fowl. I think it’s the domestic birds that make the area look scruffy, I feel this way about all domestic animals, they seem to have an air of shanty town about them.

Turning to the paddocks on the opposite side of the path there is a large herd of Fallow Deer, a pair of Ostriches and a Llama.

At the top of the path is the old farm house, a restaurant (opened by none other than that eminent naturalist Johnny Morris.) and a falconry display lawn. The view from the lawn rivals that of any zoo view and made a nice back drop for the falconry displays. The display itself began with the launching of a Lanner Falcon into the skies above Dartmoor. The bird disappeared out of sight before being brought down to a lure about twenty minutes later. Also in the display were a couple of Harris’ Hawks, a Bald Eagle and a pair of wild Buzzards that decided to join in

From here the rest of the zoo is quite heavily wooded and the ground a little more level. A large caged enclosure houses a beautiful family of Pumas, while moated enclosures are home to Jaguar and Siberian Tiger. A trio of portly Brown Bears inhabit a mini Whipsnade style enclosure which they share with Red Foxes (at least one of which is from a litter of white foxes born at the park in ’93). Peanuts are on sale to the public for the purpose of feeding the bears, the result being three rather large bears who seem to spend most of their time sat up awaiting the publics edible hand outs.

Dartmoor must be one of the few zoos in the UK that still has African Lions. The two males kept here came from a car breakers yard in Cornwall. The lions were being kept there as pets and the local council were threatening to shoot them when Dartmoor Wildlife Park stepped in and offered them a home. (They were also lucky to discover a second hand gearbox for their Jaguar).

Other carnivores to marvel at include Serval, Ocelot, Racoon, Kinkajou, Coati, European Lynx, Timber Wolves and the inevitable Short-clawed Otters whose large enclosure had only a tin bath sized pond.

Primates are represented at Dartmoor by a small group of Vervet Monkeys whose presence I enjoyed immensely.

And so finally to a small cobbled yard on which you look down, two or three wooden barrels are planted with shrubs and a ladder leads up to a glass-fronted den. A Red Fox descends the ladder and passing children point excitedly before throwing peanuts at the fox.

It was while viewing this enclosure twenty years ago that my father expressed his views about Dartmoor, of course a strong odour must have risen from the foxes back then as it did on my recent visit and perhaps it was this quite natural odour that influenced his remarks. To me the wildlife park does look a bit shabby in places, the deciduous woodland that is such a feature at Dartmoor probably doesn’t help as I find that heavily wooded zoos often have a dark, dank feel about them.

A large metal barn with its collection of tanks and cages housing a macaw, some coatis and various reptiles has the look of an outsized pet shop and the cages in the zoo shop which housed Senegal and African Grey Parrots makes the place look amateur. Despite my criticisms, Dartmoor wildlife park seems to be fairly successful. It has been operating for over thirty years and it’s collection has grown a lot since the days that only British species were exhibited. It should also be remembered that Dartmoor is only an hours drive from Paignton zoo, stiff competition I’d have thought. All in all then, Dartmoor must be doing something to please the paying public who have visited the park over the last thirty two years.


Review Submitted by Andrew Waddington, November 2000

Don't let the name of this attraction put you off. Although European wildlife used to be the main attracton here, there are plenty of more traditional zoo animals to see. Dartmoor is best known for it's tigers, and it's easy to see why. Have you ever had the perfect opportunity to get a brilliant tiger photo ruined by wire mesh? If you have, then I suggest you go to Dartmoor. Their enclosure is open- fronted, so the only thing seperating the tigers from you is a short wall, a bit of electic fencing and a wide moat.The jaguars here get the same treatment. These enclosures opened in the late 1980s, and no accidents have happened as yet, so it is quite surprising that other zoos haven't copied this great idea. Other cats to see include lions, sevals, pumas,lynx and caracals. At most good zoos, such as London, Marwell and so on, it cannot be said that some species are more important than others, with all animals well housed. Sadly I cannot really say the same about Dartmoor. A number of enclosures, like those for the otters, monkeys and lynx, look old and depressing, with concrete or tiled floors. The red foxes suffer most, being kept in a pit. As if this wasn't bad enough, these foxes are very unusual- the fur on their backs is white, but they are not albinos, or hybrids. Surely these poor foxes deserve to be stars of the park? However, it is still lovely to see these beautiful animals. You should also be warned that the large cafe houses what I consider to be a sickening display of stuffed animals, with a tiger right at the front. Whilst some would argue that such specimens are educational, what is the point in having them at a zoo, where you can see live creatures!!!? On a more positive note, the best part of the zoo is in 'Bruin's Wood'. Here, three brown bears share an attractive wooded area with semi-wild foxes : no joke! Both species seem to have a mutual respect for one another, and, crazy as this exhibit may sound, it is brilliant. The bears can also be fed peanuts by visitors, which is very entertaining! This really has to be seen to be believed. Other attractions here include falconry displays (but not on Fridays) and 'A Talk On The Wildside', where you could meet anything from a raccoon to a tarantula! Also look out for wild herons in the park. So, is Dartmoor Wildlife Park really all that good? Well, I think that it's worth going just for the bears, so I suppose I would have to say 'yes', followed by 'but it could be a lot better'!


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